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 CAB Secrecy ... CAB School Board Memos Were Partially and Totally Censored

October 3, 2007 - In 2005, The Banner filed a public record request with the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Corporation seeking copies of memos and other documents that its superintendent at the time, Hal Jester, had provided school board members.

In response to the newspaper's request, CAB gave The Banner approximately 70 memos, some of which had attachments, from Jester to the school board. Many of these records were heavily censored and had substantial portions - sometimes entire pages - redacted. The redacted records included the following:

1. On July 21, 2005, The Banner sent a letter to the school board, Jester and CAB's legal counsel at the time, Ed Dunsmore, asking questions about CAB's cafeteria program, including a nearly $60,000 discrepancy on cafeteria financial reports. Jester attached a copy of The Banner's letter to the July 29, 2005, memo he sent board members. Based on a censored copy given to The Banner, it appears that Jester or someone familiar with CAB's cafeteria program responded to at least some of the newspaper's questions by writing answers on the copies given to the school board. However, the copy that given to The Banner at a later date had these responses blacked out.

2. In his uly 5, 2005, memo to the school board, Jester complained that The Banner's news coverage of CAB's most recent audit had been "tilted and not completely accurate" and said he would "provide more details/comments on this situation" in his next memo. The Banner obtained a copy of his next memo to the board, dated July 8, 2005, but nearly the entire first page was blacked out, as was part of the second page.

3. Attached to a memo Jester sent the school board on August 6, 2004, were documents CAB received from the Department of Local Government Finance dealing with a request for an "excessive levy appeal." One of the pages included in the copies provided to The Banner in 2005 was completely blacked out.

4. On February 26, 2004, Jester issued a "Special Board Memo" to school board members. The copy provided to The Banner in 2005 blacked out in its entirety.

When it gave The Banner censored copies of these records in 2005, CAB claimed that under the state's Access to Public Records Act, it had the discretion as to whether or not to release the records. With five new members on the seven-member school board, The Banner decided to file a new record request on August 10 of this year asking for uncensored copies of the above records. Last Tuesday, September 25, CAB's public access officer and administrative assistant to the superintendent, Jena Schmidt, denied The Banner's renewed request.

"Under the advice of our school board attorney we will not be revisiting the issue of providing un-redacted copies of the memos listed," Schmidt wrote in a letter to The Banner. "Those documents will remain confidential under the statute listed by the previous school board and their attorney."

Schmidt told The Banner that she was only able to locate three of the four records at CAB’s central office. She said she was unable to locate a copy of Jester’s Feb. 26, 2004 memo.


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